2,500 men live on the hill on the north side of Walla Walla in the Washington State Penitentiary. As residents, it’s easy to learn to overlook that small city (despite the orange glow day and night). Most Walla Wallans don’t regularly interact with the inhabitants there. A good portion of Walla Wallans are actually afraid of the inmates for their track records. Some might even prefer to act as though the penitentiary isn't even there, just next door.
Just over ten years ago, a group of Christians and other community leaders in Walla Walla sought to engage more deeply those incarcerated quite literally in our back yard. As educators affiliated with the Community College, these leaders had regular contact at the penitentiary and quickly came to see a pressing need. When offenders are released (always in the county wherein their crime was committed), they often have nothing more than $40 in their pockets and a shirt on their backs. For those incarcerated over years or decades before this moment, it can be both confusing and overwhelming. The men released usually don’t even know how to sort out basic needs like housing, employment, or social support. To complicate matters, up to 90% of them have (or have had) some kind of substance abuse problem. As a consequence, recidivism for parolees who have no guidance or resources is around 30% in the first three years after release. This small group of Christians and leaders established The Star Projectwith the aim to help fill the gap.
The mission of the Star Project is to assist people in their transition from inmate to citizen status; from the environment of confinement to the real world. The organization, consisting of a few paid staff and many volunteers, takes action for parolees in the form of mentoring, education, housing, employment searches, among others. Because former felons can be legally discriminated against in the area of housing and employment, these can be particularly large hurdles to overcome after release from prison. The Star Project works to help ensure these men avoid future prison sentences and experience the joy of life and grace.
Kris, Jenn, and guest host Don spend time talking about the importance of structure, punishment vs. rehabilitation, the mission and focus of the church in society, legalism, and the incredible value of grace in spirituality and real-life.
For listeners who live in the Walla Walla area, you should know that The Star Project presently has several needs in completing its mission in Walla Walla. Among them include the need for volunteers which can include mentoring inmates on writing resumes, evaluating finances, and key life skills. In addition, the Star Project also partners with local landlords to provide housing for its clients. For more information on how you might contribute in either of these ways, email the staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 509.525.3612. Finally, the Star Project is always in need of financial support (give online to the Star Project at: http://goo.gl/SyAAb1).